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PRACTICAL REPENTANCE

Read­ing Time: 10 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Jos 5:9–12; 2Cor 5:17–21; Luke 15:1–3.11–32)

True repent­ance is no light mat­ter. It is a thor­ough change of heart about sin, a change show­ing itself in godly sor­row and humi­li­ation – in heart­felt con­fes­sion before the throne of grace – in a com­plete break­ing off from sin­ful habits, and an abid­ing hatred of all sin. Such repent­ance is the insep­ar­able com­pan­ion of sav­ing faith in Christ” (J. C. Ryle).

Introduction

As the Len­ten peri­od comes to con­clu­sion, the Gos­pel read­ings become more intense and more demand­ing. To end the lent without repent­ance is a ser­i­ous spir­itu­al offence. The fif­teenth chapter of the Gos­pel accord­ing to Luke con­tains spe­cial epis­odes that dwell on repent­ance. Tax col­lect­ors, Sin­ners and the youth who squandered his own share of his father’s prop­erty are all examples of people who erred and desired to repent and come back to the right path. While Tax col­lect­ors and sin­ners rushed to Jesus to listen to his sound teach­ings, those who con­sidered them­selves as holy, the Phar­isees and the Scribes, remained behind, com­plain­ing and mur­mur­ing. That Jesus receives and eats with those they clas­si­fy as sin­ners shows his pop­ular­ity among the out­casts of the soci­ety. This situ­ation has not changed today. Some con­sider them­selves holy simply because they belong to one pious asso­ci­ation or the oth­er. We must note that even the holi­est per­son is a sin­ner, and has need of repent­ance. Left for the Phar­isees and the Scribes, the Tax col­lect­ors and those they call Sin­ners should be decap­it­ated. No mat­ter your sin­ful situ­ation, always run to God, show remorse for your sins and God will surely take you back and bless you too. After all, Jesus came for those who recog­nize they are sin­ners and are ready to amend their sin­ful ways (cf. Matt 9:13).

The epis­ode of the youth who asked the fath­er to give him his own share of the prop­erty is anoth­er inter­est­ing story. Let us leave by the side the fact that this young man squandered his father’s prop­erty. The first thing we should learn from this story is the will­ing­ness of the fath­er to give the son the oppor­tun­ity to grow. Exper­i­ence it is said, is the best teach­er. If the fath­er had objec­ted to this son’s demand, then, he would have denied him of the pos­sib­il­ity of learn­ing and matur­ing. This young man did not want to wait for the death of his fath­er before request­ing for his own share of the inher­it­ance. In our soci­ety today, this is very com­mon. From time to time, we get news of chil­dren fight­ing for their father’s prop­erty when the fath­er is still alive, some­times in the hos­pit­al or at home strug­gling with sick­ness. It is a pity!

The setting of the parable

Now all the tax col­lect­ors and sin­ners were com­ing near to listen to him. And the Phar­isees and the scribes were grumbling and say­ing, this fel­low wel­comes sin­ners and eats with them. So he told them this par­able” (Luke 15:1–3). Jesus has been teach­ing the crowds as he jour­neys to Jer­u­s­alem. As he teaches, the Phar­isees and Scribes com­plain and chal­lenge Jesus because accord­ing to them, he wel­comes those they tag as sin­ners, instead of cas­tig­at­ing them. this is the third of three par­ables that Jesus tells in response to his crit­ics. These three con­vers­ant par­ables: the par­able of the lost sheep, the par­able of the lost coin, and this Sunday read­ing, the par­able of the repent­ant son, invite us to con­sider the depth of God’s mercy, care, patience and love. The set­ting or reas­on for the par­able is to teach and edu­cate the Phar­isees and the Scribes who were not happy with his asso­ci­ation with those they erro­neously clas­si­fy as sin­ners. While the Phar­isees required that sin­ners first become ritu­ally clean (by observing their inter­pret­a­tion of Jew­ish Law) before shar­ing table fel­low­ship, Jesus took a dif­fer­ent approach towards sin­ners. Jesus reaches out to sin­ners while they are still sin­ners, invit­ing them to con­ver­sion through fel­low­ship with him. While the Phar­isees excluded and dis­crim­in­ated against them because they are sin­ners, Jesus wel­comed them in their sin­ful con­di­tion, offer­ing them the oppor­tun­ity to repent and bear fruit. Through friend­ship with Jesus, our sins are for­giv­en and we, in turn, bear fruit for God.

The youth and freedom

Free­dom and the use of free­dom is anoth­er les­son from this story. Most youth and most people think free­dom means doing what one likes. From his mis­take, this young man learnt that free­dom means care­ful­ness, acute­ness and respons­ib­il­ity. You can­not eat your cake and have it. You are free to do whatever you like, but do not for­get you must also be free to accept the con­sequences of your actions and words.

Look at the will­ing­ness of the fath­er to wel­come his repent­ant son. This is the heart of this story. Verse 17 is very inter­est­ing. it says: “but when he came to him­self he said….” This is a lit­er­al trans­la­tion. By inter­pret­a­tion, it means but when he came to his senses he said…” That is the key phrase – com­ing to him­self or com­ing to his senses. If the fath­er had not allowed to go, he would not have come to his senses. This is exactly the moment of repent­ance. The moment he came to his senses, he ques­tioned his wrong choice, his wrong under­stand­ing of free­dom and his arrog­ant life. Con­sequently, he decided to change and to go back to his fath­er. Unless a per­son comes to his or her senses, he or she can nev­er real­ize his or her mis­takes and can nev­er change and repent. While the young­er son who repen­ted and came back rep­res­ents sin­ners (Tax col­lect­ors and Sin­ners) who real­ize and acknow­ledge they are sin­ners and ready to repent, the eld­erly son rep­res­ents those who think they are without sin (Phar­isees and Scribes) and have no need of repent­ance. Who are you? Are you the young­er son or are you the eld­erly son?

Prodigal or repentant?

Often, the par­able repor­ted by Luke in Luke 15:11–32 is referred to many as “the par­able of the prod­ig­al son.” Ety­mo­lo­gic­ally, prod­ig­al derives from the Lat­in terms pro, mean­ing for or for­ward and agere which means to drive. This has led to the verb prodigere mean­ing, among oth­er things, to con­sume. As an adject­ive, prod­ig­al means spend­ing money or using resources freely and reck­lessly; waste­fully extra­vag­ant. It is hav­ing or giv­ing some­thing on a lav­ish scale. Then, as a noun, prod­ig­al refers to a per­son who spends money in a reck­lessly extra­vag­ant way. In oth­er words, a per­son who is described as prod­ig­al is someone who is extra­vag­ant with his or her money or some oth­er resource. That is, being prod­ig­al does not con­cern money alone. A per­son could as well be prod­ig­al in spir­itu­al mat­ters and even with time and energy. From the way this son lived his life, it is clear that he was prod­ig­al. That is, he spent his father’s money in a reck­lessly extra­vag­ant man­ner. But what is Jesus’ inten­tion for telling this par­able? To show that this son spent money lav­ishly or…? I think the reas­on for the par­able goes bey­ond extra­vag­ant spend­ing. What is that reason?

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